Petty crime hits big time when burglary's in news

FOREIGN CLOSEUP

January 19, 1993|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,London Bureau

LONDON -- Police Constable Young was pert, alert and ha only six months on the force. She was full of questions; she wanted the facts. Everything went into her little notebook.

She also had an evident confidence in the skills and abilities of the sleuths in the crime lab. She thought she detected fingerprints on the steel cabinet, where it had been forced. She picked up an item of evidence with a pencil, just as in the movies. She spotted the shoe print.

"When we catch him, you can go to his trial at the Old Bailey," she said encouragingly.

Detective D. C. Kelly showed up a little later. Everybody welcomed him to the scene of the crime. He already had his plastic gloves on; he deployed his little kit with the brushes and powder.

But Detective Kelly has been doing forensic work for some time and has a deeper appreciation of its limitations than his younger colleague. "If they made any marks by pulling themselves in, they aren't evident," he said.

He found no prints on the cabinet. "Smudgy. Probably wore gloves."

The shoe print on the lower door, where the thief had placed his foot to leverage the lock, was of a kind too common to be of any help.

The office was only slightly in disarray; a few desk drawers were pulled out; some items were on the floor. Missing was about $225 in pounds sterling. Left untouched were two computers, a radio, a copier, a television, a tape recorder, a typewriter, $500 in cash.

This was the second burglary of The Sun's London office in a year. Last January they came in through the door, this time the window.

Detective Kelly surmised that the thief, or thieves, climbed the five stories up the scaffolding recently erected to facilitate the renovation of the building next door.

"Probably a drug addict," guessed the detective with an air of someone who had seen it all before. "Somebody only interested in cash, to send themselves up. Couldn't use this other stuff."

"But the dollars? Why didn't they take the dollars?"

"I don't like to generalize about people," he said, "but probably if this kind walked into a bank with $500, he'd give himself away. Just not the type, you know."

Such is life in the big city, and in big cities breaking and entering and burglary go with the territory. In London it's a growth industry. Between April 1991 and March of last year, the last period for which statistics are given, there were "194,900 such offenses," said a spokeswoman for Scotland Yard.

This was 10 percent more than the same period for the previous year. And, she said, "it represented the highest number in any one year that the police have had to deal with."

By comparison, in Baltimore the number of burglaries and breaking and enterings is declining, according to a police spokeswoman there. She put the number for the first nine months of 1991 at 12,125, compared to 11,860 for the same period last year.

That indicates a benign decline in that crime. Better yet, considering the populations of the two cities -- 736,000 in Baltimore; 6,377,900 in London -- the incidence in Baltimore is slightly lower in this particular offense.

Actually, crime in London is up all across the board. But in one category, Baltimore -- a city a fraction the size of this one -- is undisputably the leader. Last year, Charm City reported 335 homicides. In London, in the 12 months between April 1991 and March of last year, the combined totals of murders, manslaughters and infanticides reached only 185. That was an increase over the same period for the previous year of only one.

Though the statistics indicate a rise in forced illegal entries and burglaries in London, Detective Kelly suspects this activity might actually have been declining over the past two months, possibly since late November. He says he is not certain of this, basing his opinion only on the numbers of cases he is called upon to investigate.

And the cause for this felicitous decline? Indirectly, it's the Irish Republican Army.

According to Detective Kelly, Scotland Yard's full-court press against IRA bombers over the past eight weeks -- in response to that organization's holiday bombing campaign -- has also had the effect of deterring lots of would be burglars.

Unfortunately, not ours.

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